What is Religion

What is Religion?
James A. Van Slyke, PhD
Christian Context at APU
• Personal, Incarnate God
• Jesus Christ
– God in the Flesh
– Atonement
• Crucifixion saves us from
• Restores relationship
with God
Christian Context at APU
• Term “Christian” (44 AD)
• Born from the Jewish
– Begins with the tribes of
– Continues with Kings and
• Jesus grew up in a Jewish
• Christianity is the
theological foundation of
religious beliefs at APU
– 3.3 bil (33%)
• Religion is a worldwide
– Hinduism – 950 mil (14%)
– Buddhism – 370 mil (6%)
– Islam – 1.5 bil (21%)
– Several smaller
indigenous religions
What is Religion?
• Belief in the Supernatural
– Agents that influence
– daily life
– Examples
– Often depicted in religious symbols, statues, and
What is Religion?
• Ritual
– Practices performed by a religious community
• Often symbolic for a supernatural reality
• Examples
– Communion
– Worship
– Can include a variety of behaviors and actions
• Music, Dance, Special forms of dress, Food, Symbols
• Sacrifice, violence, initiation rites
What is Religion?
• Experiences
– Subjective to the individual
– Examples
• Prayer
• Mediation
• Altered states of consciousness
– Usually defined as an experience of the divine or
• Spiritual, mystic, sacred
• Has important impact on someone’s life
What is Religion?
• Morality
– Defines right and wrong behavior for a community
– Values contained in different narratives and
prescriptive or normative statements
• Stories that contain a moral value
– Parables
– Life and teachings of the Buddha
• Laws or Rules
– 10 commandments
– 5 Pillars of Islam
What is Religion?
• Community
– Unites a group of persons
– Contains common goals
– Important role in defining
• Cultural practices define
history of a community
• Provide benefits for a
– Education, economic resources,
What is Religion?
• Family and Marriage
– Plays an important role in
sexual and marital values
– Provides support and
education for family life
– Religious values often
encourage family growth
and commitment
What is Religion?
• Personal Meaning (Existential Definition)
– Religion provides a sense of meaning and purpose
for life
– Provides an overall narrative to make sense of the
– Helps to deal with anxiety and ambiguity
Nelson’s Definition
• Transcendent
– Aspects of life that are greater
than us
– Transcend nature, history,
culture, and individuals
• Immanent
– Present in important aspects
of daily life
Nelson’s Definition
• Way of Life
– Cultural Definition
– Way of living life according to certain practices,
beliefs and values
• Forms a Worldview
– Unique perspective on the world based on
ultimate definitions of meaning and purpose
Religion or Spirituality?
• Religion
– Typically refers to organized and identifiable
– Religions have members and a particular historical
• Spirituality
– Individually based; more experiential
– Connection with others and the sacred
– Often not confined to one religion

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